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Chicken Run
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Peter Lord
Explains how the hens' characters evolved
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Peter Lord
"Plasticine communicates humanity better"
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Peter Lord
Explains the huge scale of the project
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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Park and Lord's fowl play
Chicken Run
Ginger explains how Rocky can help the hens escape
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

After four long years - and a seemingly endless supply of plasticine - Chicken Run from the award-winning Aardman Animations is finally here.

No-one is more relieved to see it released than its creators and directors, Nick Park and Peter Lord, who wondered at times if their first full-length feature would ever be hatched.

"To get this film made was so difficult," Park admits.

We came up with all these gags that kept us going and if it hadn't been a comedy it would have been very difficult

Nick Park

"To keep the momentum going and the project on schedule we had to stick to a very tight regime.

"We were also wary that, having gone on to do something so much bigger, if we failed there would be people waiting to say: 'I told you so'."

Such fears become entirely understandable when you see the scale and imagination of Chicken Run - a prisoner-of-war pastiche with hens.


Plasticine animation is a painstaking business. Models have to be moved a fraction at a time, photographed, moved again and photographed.

Twenty-four photographs only produce one frame and a whole day's work only makes a few seconds of film.

Lord (left) and Park
Lord (left) and Park say the Chicken Run regime was extremely tough

Chicken Run is two and a half times as long as one of Aardman's Wallace and Gromit films, involving 10 times as many people and sets.

But it excels in its attention to detail and characterisation, and its sense of humour - all Aardman trademarks.

"In the first year, we came up with all these gags that kept us going and if it hadn't been a comedy it would have been very difficult.

"But just knowing that one day those jokes would be on the big screen was motivation enough.

"Now, it's done, we feel fantastic, mainly because it plays well to a cinema audience which is what we have been aiming for all the time."

Broad appeal

Chicken Run is a loose parody of The Great Escape.

It centres on the desperate attempts of a group of hens to flee the cruel regime of the Tweedys' Yorkshire egg farm - aided by Rocky, the amazing flying American rooster, voiced by Mel Gibson.

Chicken Run
An elaborate dance sequence shows pain-staking work and great humour

The film opened in the US last week to critical cheers for its appeal to adults and children, followed by strong box office sales.

Lord says Chicken Run has managed to make the Americans laugh at themselves.

"Certain things Fowler - the clapped out old rooster - says about the 'Yanks' go down brilliantly in the US - particularly the line about them being 'oversexed, overpaid and over here'.

"Then, they are so busy laughing, they do not hear the next line - so it doesn't matter if they understand it or not," he jokes.

Julia Sawalha, father and sister
Sawalha (right) attends the movie's premiere with father Nadim and sister Nadia

Park says he has always found chickens intensely funny - hence the film's inspiration.

He and Lord even spent a day on a chicken farm - down on their knees with the birds - to really get a feel of how the stars of Chicken Run would behave.

Once out of the chicken hut, they found they did not need to seek out big names to appear in the film, as many of the stars came to them.

Julia Sawalha - who plays the hens' young ring-leader Ginger - was chosen for the "gravely" quality of her voice.

"She also has that feisty quality which was needed for her to be the leader," explains Park.

"With a lot of British actresses we found that if you can't see their faces, their voices become anonymous - there are few that stand out in the way that Julia does."


Chicken Run is made in collaboration with Steven Spielberg's production company Dreamworks - as part of five film 150m deal.

Chicken Run
Chicken Run was very much a learning process

Other studios wanted them, but the creative freedom promised by Spielberg and his partner Jeffrey Katzenberg clinched the deal.

It allowed Park and Lord to come up with their own ideas for films and keep the centre of production at Aardman's Bristol studios.

Lord admits that, ideally, they would have liked everything about Chicken Run to have been British. But American financial muscle won through.

"When you are in Hollywood, you realise the huge economic power with which it is set up.

"Multi-million dollar deals can be signed off without batting an eyelid and no one in Europe can do that," he says.

Work on the next feature is already underway - a contemporary take on Aesop's Tortoise and the Hare fable.

After that, they hint a full-length Wallace and Gromit film could be on the cards.

But one thing is certain - the pair are planning to take things a little easier now.

"I can't imagine going back to that directing regime for a while, it was too tough," says Lord.

"We and Chicken Run were also very much guinea-pigs. The whole thing was a test bed.

"Certain things could and will be done better next time, particularly where the directors are concerned - they will be treated like gods."

Chicken Run opens across the UK from Friday 30 June

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See also:

09 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Wallace and Gromit's Hollywood date
23 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Chicken Run sets US flapping
30 Oct 99 | Entertainment
Preston's plasticine man
27 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Connery coup for Chicken Run
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